At the first restaurant I worked, we paid an old Italian lady to clean smelts for us. Buckets full. She would just sit in front of her TV at night and rip the spine out of these little Lake Erie sardines. Over and over. Truly, cleaning smelts is a pain in the ass. No clue how we even found this woman to do it - it was just a reality I walked into. It was a work responsibility. "Drop the smelts off to the smelt lady,” then my car smelled like fish for a week. Years later, at another restaurant, the chef dropped a large bucket full of uncleaned smelts in front me, and I brought up that "actually" I knew somebody who would clean them for cheap. He said, "Oh, the smelt lady? She's dead." Then I repeatedly ripped out the spine of about 500 smelts.
Here’s a poem I wrote 10 years ago about the Smelt Lady. It is the only poem I’ve ever written. Enjoy.